THE NORTHCOTT THEATRE – TILL 21 SEPTEMBER 2019 AND TOUR
RUNNING TIME – 2 hours 10 minutes – 1 interval
Northcott Box Office – 01392 726363
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 17 SEPTEMBER 2019
Any study of the work of Emma Rice will reveal an inventiveness and creativity which can startle, shock and amuse – but she will always get your attention. Her first production for her new Company, Wise Children – the show is also called ‘Wise Children’ – was a huge success and now she is back with her own adaptation of some of the stories of Enid Blyton.
The story of schoolgirls at a school in Cornwall and their relationships and adventures was a fertile subject for Blyton; her creations were often caricatures – a timid one, a brave one, a beastly one and so on, but her stories – though not always the most politically correct – were full of daring-do and high spirits.
It is a wonder that there have not been more adaptations of Blyton’s work – they are enormous fun – but maybe it would take someone like Emma Rice to fully realise the potential in the stories and have the means to make stage versions happen!
You know this is an exciting prospect when you receive the programme mocked-up to look like an old exercise book and add to that a beautifully realised set by the brilliant Lez Brotherston and the tension is unbearable.
As the play opens it is like being wrapped in a warm blanket of cosy fun. As we meet the pupils at the school – six girls and a random boy with a horse – we instantly know which is which, they are very individual with back stories which we learn more about as we go on their journey. The whole escapade is accompanied by singing – some original and some not – and on and offstage musicianship – it is all joyful.
With enthusiasm, energy and much skill, the actors take us into their world and spin a yarn which is both thrilling and hilarious. As a backdrop to the story the audience are offered continually changing animations by Simon Baker – brilliant animations so the whole play turns into something of a comic-strip. And all is done with tongues firmly in cheeks, but with conviction and charm.
Whether this is really a story about girl power is up for debate – it is just fun, and any subtext and deep analysis is, frankly rather daft. Do we have to deconstruct everything these days?
As the central character, Darrell Rivers, Izuka Hoyle is strong-willed and likeable. Rebecca Collingwood is the terribly horrid Gwendoline Lacey – though her story is a rather sad one. Mirabelle Gremaud is multi-talented as Irene Dupont – plays the harp, sings and has a very bendy body. Renee Lamb is the gag-telling Alicia Johns who has no confidence and Vinnie Heaven is the wide-eyed, heroic Jim along with their horse, Thunder. My performances of the show were the rather bossy, but very well-meaning Sally Hope as portrayed by Francesca Mills and the frightfully nervy Mary Lou Atkinson – wonderful stuff from Rose Shalloo. As an ensemble cast you don’t get much better. Not forgetting the very recognisable voice of Sheila Hancock as the Headteacher Miss Grayling. Hidden away but integral to the show is pianist Stephanie Hockley who accompanies the action perfectly. The new songs with music by Ian Ross and words by Emma Rice are beautiful – especially ‘Hush Now Sally’.
This is wonderful fun and the faces of the audience were wreathed in smiles throughout. A touching, funny, and affectionate look at a fictional world which reminds many of their childhood. Emma Rice will have another undoubted hit on her hands.
An unutterable joy.
GWENDOLINE LACEY – REBECCA COLLINGWOOD
IRENE DUPONT – MIRABELLE GREMAUD
BILL ROBINSON – VINNIE HEAVEN
DARRELL RIVERS – IZUKA HOYLE
ALICIA JOHNS – RENEE LAMB
SALLY HOPE – FRANCESCA MILLS
MARY LOU ATKINSON – ROSE SHALLOO
PIANIST – STEPHANIE HOCKLEY
VOICE OF MISS GRAYLING – SHEILA HANCOCK
ADAPTATION & DIRECTION – EMMA RICE
SET & COSTUME DESIGN – LEZ BROTHERSTON
COMPOSER & MUSICAL DIRECTOR – IAN ROSS
LIGHTING DESIGN – MALCOLM RIPPETH
SOUND & VIDEO DESIGN – SIMON BAKER
CHOREOGRAPHER – ALISTAIR DAVID